It’s 8:30 a.m. at Broad and Erie, and state representative candidate Malik Boyd is surrounded by his campaign’s biggest motivation: People.
Scores of commuters from across the 198th Legislative District — where Boyd is staging a second run for office — and beyond are spilling on and off buses and rushing down steps to catch the Broad Street Line.
Boyd deftly navigates the crowd as he offers up campaign literature on both sides of the busy Hunting Park intersection. He’s smiling most of the way.
“If I could just go out and talk to people all day long, I’d be in heaven,” he says.
Many, though, are too busy to hear him out. Most simply take his palm card and continue on their way.
Perhaps hoping to find folks with just a minute or two more to spare, Boyd decides to duck into Donuts Plus, a small coffee shop.
“A lot of people are going to make promises and we’ve heard them,” Boyd tells four customers sipping java from white Styrofoam cups at a counter just inside the door. “I’m not going to make any promises. I’m just going to tell you that I’m going to do my very best.”
Intrigued by Boyd’s words, Terry Austin speaks up as her friends quietly continue to fuel up on caffeine.
“I appreciate you taking the time to come in here,” Austin tells Boyd. “Once you get elected, you’re going to have to have coffee here every once in a while so we can tell you what you need to know.”
Boyd directs to her to call his campaign office, so she doesn’t have to wait to see him if she’s got something on her mind. Austin appears pleased with the response as Boyd bids farewell before returning to the corner.
“It’s time for someone under 50 to be involved in our government,” says Austin, who cites safe streets and youth programs as priorities. “We seem to be looking at the same people that have been around 15, 20 years. They just recycle and recycle and recycle.”
Better prepared to win in ’12
Boyd, 34, is hoping to replace 18-year Democratic incumbent Rosita Youngblood. First-time candidate Charisma Presley is out to do the same.
But Boyd says he’s better positioned to win this time around. While he lost to Youngblood two years ago, he says he’s gained invaluable experience since and is now better prepared to take hold of the district’s reins.
“It’s night and day,” he says.
Boyd points specifically to his leadership role with the Philadelphia Young Democrats — an organization chartered under the Democratic Party and charged with getting young people excited and engaged in politics — as a driving force behind that transformation.
“My presidency has had a major impact on my ability to connect across the aisle and through the Democratic leadership,” he says, noting that the role has also taught him to remain practical when facing challenging situations.
The Germantown resident also has a lot of internal motivation that’s been building since 2010.
With less than a month to go before the Pennsylvania Primary, Boyd says the district is still in poor shape. He doesn’t think anything has improved since his last run.
“Then, you look back another decade prior to when I ran, and you see the same happening, and you recognize that it’s not about whether or not you want to get involved, but the fact that someone has to get involved because it’s time,” he says.
Boyd says it’s time for the community to progress, which leads him to yet another source of confidence in his 2012 bid: Chelten Plaza.
Chelten Plaza as a positive
Boyd often brings up the recently erected strip-mall development at Chelten and Pulaski avenues as he canvasses the diverse district. He uses it as a concrete example of what he’s done in the district and proudly cites the estimated 150 jobs the project is expected to bring to the neighborhood.
As a member of the Germantown Community Connection, a nonprofit organization, Boyd was present for what was, at times, an extremely contentious battle between members of the community and the project’s developer.
A vocal contingent of residents fought hard against developer Patrick Burns, who they felt was not open with the community about his intentions with the site, namely his plans to bring another dollar store to the neighborhood.
Opposition centered on the low expectations for the community that the choice, along with a lower-end supermarket, seemed to signal. Deals, a discount variety store run by Dollar Tree, Inc., opened at Chelten Plaza on Saturday. A Save-A-Lot grocery store sits not far away.
Boyd backed the project throughout the process. He maintains that development “doesn’t always happen the way we all want it, but it’s an opportunity to say, ‘Look. We’re starting somewhere.'”
Commercial developments like Chelten Plaza, he continues, help bring new residents to the district and keep them there. He says the community has experienced a lot of “brain drain” as talented residents have left the district as a result of a lack of development.
Chelten Plaza as a negative
Attorney Yvonne Haskins, who represented residents opposed to the development during last fall’s Zoning Board of Adjustment hearings, doesn’t think Chelten Plaza is a feather for Boyd to place in his cap. In fact, she said she thinks his involvement brings up some serious questions about his abilities as a leader.
Haskins, who does not live in the district, says that Boyd misrepresented facts and was not forthcoming during the process.
During a meeting in late April where GCC’s membership overwhelmingly voted to officially oppose the project, Haskins says Boyd announced that the organization was “in partnership with Pulaski Partners,” Burns’ development company.
“I really thought that was outrageous,” said Haskins, noting she thought Boyd had a responsibility to be more neutral and listen to what the community was saying.
Haskins says she stopped attending GCC meetings shortly thereafter. She adds that she always questioned whether Boyd was working for Burns. She says Boyd never answered that question.
“It’s just not clear to me what he represents,” she says. “It’s not clear to me whose interests he’s representing.”
Boyd thinks the fervor over Chelten Plaza is “absolutely diluting.”
“The reality is there was a lot of coverage on a minority that was screaming about the project and rightfully so because everyone has a right to communicate about what they feel, but there were also well over 5 or 6,000 people that didn’t have the same voice,” he says. “They were glad to see this project come to fruition.”
People before politics
As Boyd heads to his car for some more canvassing, this time in Nicetown, he gets to talking about his love and commitment to the community.
He lives in the district, his business is in the district, his daughters go to the school in the district. All of which is to say that he’s had roots here before he even considered running for office.
“The reality is I’ve cared long before I put in my candidacy and I’m going to care long after my candidacy is done,” he says. “We’re not necessarily talking about politics here, we’re talking about people. Politics is just the process that we’re going to help the people through.”
This week, NewsWorks is profiling the three candidates running in the Democratic Primary for the 198th District state house seat. Already posted: challenger Charisma Presley. Still to come: incumbent Rosita Youngblood.